Lillian shuffled between the quickly made litter and the defiled clan house, directing the men of MacGoulan in the proper way to secure her human prize, and questioning Sionn.
"You're familiar with the clan chief's sword, are you not?" she asked.
"Aye, I've seen it"
"Have you found it here? Did Donnchadh die with his blade, is it with his body?"
Sionn tried to hide his disgust, "I did not search his remains, old woman! You said to burn it all."
Lillian smirked, "Before you light the fire, search for the sword. If you do not find it, search again after the fire has cleaned up the mess. Search every hovel here. Do not think to defy me, Sionn MacGoulan, don't for a minute think this same fate couldn't visit your home." Without waiting for an answer, she left him glaring after her as she returned to the litter that held Annag.
The hairs rising on Sionn's neck convinced him to follow her commands. He watched as she directed his clansmen to accompany her, carrying the wounded girl with them.
Annag’s dreams were ugly and disordered. In them she ran, trying to escape the terror that began as her wedding feast. Trying not to believe Taog, her betrothed had been torn apart in front of her.
Running from the vision of savaged flesh that had been her mother and the memory of her father being pulled down and slain.
Fleeing the scream of her young sister before her head was ripped from her body.
Trying not to see every one of her clansmen dismembered, bloodied. Dead.
Screaming herself to muffle the soothing voice that kept repeating, "It will be alright."
More frightening was the beast that walked beside her. A man with a wolf’s snout. Claws at the end of each finger. Together they walked from village to village, clan to clan. In each pace they left blood and death behind.
She raised her hands to wipe the tears from her face only to see claws growing from her own fingers.
She screamed in denial.
“It will be alright,girl.” Again the voice. Soothing. Compelling. Terrifying.
She’d cried out repeatedly in her fevered dreams. And each time that voice, those words “it will be alright’” mocked her.
Annag woke from the nightmare at midday. The sun blazing through the window across from her cot. She felt a strange relief, at least she was alone.
The room smelled of burning herbs and the taste on her tongue mirrored them. She tried to raise her head. Dizziness made that impossible. She could see the sky bleached white by the heat of the day. A wind gusted through the window, its breath drawing the last moisture from her mouth.
She lay back on the pillow, her mind sorting the dreams from reality. The burning pain on her back insisting far more of the nightmare was real than not.
Her solitude was too soon broken. The persistent voice from her dreams broke the silence.
“So, Annag, last of MacClarren, you’ve awoken finally.” Lillian filled the small space.
“Where am I? What has happened? I don’t remember, where is my family, where is Taog?” she asked the last question already knowing the answer.
“You are a guest in my home. For now.” The old woman appraised her. “What do you remember, girl?”
“Attack. By… wolves?” Annag closed her eyes as tears began to form, then opened them quickly as memories of blood and death swam behind her lids.
“Wolves?” Lillian snorted, “You know better, girl. The only wolves in this land are the one’s on two legs. How do you even know the word?”
“I do. Men that become beasts, the old stories. Wolf? Not really, just animals from a man’s black heart, made real by old magics.”
Annag tried to deny, she shook her head, “no, they are only tales to frighten children! Such things don’t exist, they cannot…”
“They cannot? Were you not frightened, ‘child’?” Lillian sneered at her. “Your clan is dead. MacClarren is no more. No father, chief. No mother. No precious little sister.” Lillian’s voice that had pretended comfort during the nightmares, threw aside the pretense. “And your MacGoulan boy? Ripped apart.”
“Stop! Stop it!” Annag tried to get up from the cot, Lillian pushed her back with the butt of her staff.
“You stop, girl. Stop puling like a babe. You are alive. And hard work it was to keep you that way.” Lillian eyed her sidelong. “What I really want to know, is how you survived, how you slew a dozen shape shifted men and only have a few scratches to show for it.”
Annag’s memories played in her mind. Her father’s blade. Where was her father’s blade. She almost asked the old woman, then hesitated. She had held the broadsword in her hands, where had it gone? Vague recollections of moonlight glinting on the iron. Surely she’d never left the clan house. But, where was the blade?”
She did not trust this old woman. Her answer was half truth, “My clansmen killed them before they fell themselves. I remember being wounded. I must have fainted, the beasts thought me dead already.”
Lillian weighed the words. “Perhaps. Perhaps that is so. We shall see, yes, we shall see.”
“Sionn! I remember Sionn, I want to speak to him, please.” Annag was ready to leave this place, this woman. She could go to MacGoulan, she had been betrothed.
Lillian laughed, “I think you don’t want to speak to Sionn, or any MacGoulan. The scratches you remember, the one’s healing on your pretty back? They carry… well let’s just say a sickness.”
“What do you mean? Am I dying? The babe, I carry a child!”
“Dead is what you’ll both be if you approach any MacGoulan. Those marks mean the beast is in you now, girl. You’re tainted.”
“No! You're lying, lying!” Annag stood up in spite of the dizziness, she wanted to strike Lillian. Stop the words that resurrected the dream. The dream of walking with the beast at her side, leaving death behind.
Lillian smiled knowingly at Annag. “Am I now?”
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